Geothermal/Threatened and Endangered Species
Geothermal Threatened and Endangered Species
Threatened and Endangered Species
Present, Potentially Affected
- DOE-EA-1849 (EA for Northern Nevada Geothermal Power Plant Project at McGuinness Hills Geothermal Area)
- DOI-BLM-CA-017-05-051 (Basalt Canyon Geothermal Pipeline Project Environmental Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Report for Geothermal/Well Field)
- DOI-BLM-OR-P000-2011-0003-EA (EA for Newberry Volcano Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) Demonstration Project for Geothermal/Well Field)
- DOI-BLM-OR-P040-0021-EA (EA for Exploratory Wells at Midnight Point and Mahogany Geothermal Exploration Projects, Glass Buttes, Oregon for Geothermal/Exploration)
- DOI-BLM-UT-C010-2010-0042-EA (EA of Cove Fort/Sulphurdale Geothermal Utilization Plan for Geothermal/Power Plant)
- DOI-BLM-UT-W020-2010-042-EA (EA for Exploration and Development Drilling at Drum Mountain Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Exploration)
- NV-020-03-26 (Desert Peak 2 Geothermal Project Environmental Assessment for Geothermal/Power Plant)
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C §1531 et. seq.) aims to protect and restore plant and animal species that are at risk. Section 7 of the ESA mandates federal agencies to see that their activities are, “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species of threatened species or result in the destruction of a species' critical habitat.” Incidental Take Permits are issued to federal agencies when development activities require species “taking, possession, sale, and transport of listed species.” Take is defined as to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, capture, or collect” a threatened or endangered species. These actions are permissible for research, education or to “enhance species propagation and survival”; however, it is illegal to “take” for malicious activity or intent. The Incidental Take Permit accounts “all of the intended impact on all listed species, candidate species, and critical habitat for those species.”
Lists: Threatened and Endangered species lists are managed by each state, however, a federal listing also exists. Threatened species are close to becoming endangered, however, through careful mitigation measures, their populations can be salvaged. The ESA’s protection not only allows threatened species to get the care they need before “the brink of extinction,” but also allows re-stabilized populations to receive less aggressive restoration treatment as they recover. Endangered species are very close to extinction and heavy mitigation measures are required to recover populations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS): This agency is responsible for habitat restoration and care of these species. If an area has any of these species living on or nearby it, site relocation may be advised. All protective measures of the ESA apply to endangered species, while, at the USFS’s discretion, selective measures apply to threatened species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Endangered or Threatened?
The National Wildlife Refuge System: (16 U.S.C §668dd) This is a, “national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.” These areas are open to the public for environmental education and for special management of threatened or endangered species.
Threatened and Endangered Species Impacts & Mitigation
Pre-construction surveys indicate whether or not a threatened or endangered species is located at the proposed site. The findings reveal if a project’s impacts will negatively affect these species. The fragile and critical habitat of these species becomes more vulnerable when geothermal projects are proposed or carried out. Each species is case-by-case depending on its population status. Projects that will negatively affect a threatened or endangered species may require significant mitigation strategies to carry forward with the project.
Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP): These plans are developed to “preserve existing habitat; enhancement or restoration of degraded or a former habitat; creation of new habitats; establish buffer areas around existing habitats; modify land use practices, and restrict access.” HCPs are covered under Section 9 of the ESA and bound by incidental take permits. The USFS monitors the permits and conditions named for HCP lands. To mitigate timeline complications, HCPs require key “milestones” and alternative actions in the case of unforeseeable circumstances. Biological goals and considerations are important to meet each listed threatened or endangered species’ habitat, dietary, or specialized needs.
"Low-Effect:" Most geothermal leasing projects are “Low-Effect” HCPs because only minor impacts to threatened or endangered species habitats, environmental values, and natural resources exist. Low-Effect HCPs do not require an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), however, anticipate three months to acquire a permit. If the project requires an EA and is still considered, “Low-Effect”, anticipate six months to acquire a permit.
“High-Effect:” HCPs recognize major impacts to threatened or endangered species habitats, environmental values, and natural resources. EAs and EISs accompany the HCPs and anticipate one year to acquire a permit.
Factors Affecting Threatened and Endangered Species
Additional provisions of the ESA are addressed below:
The “No Surprises” clause in the ESA’s Section 10 (a)(1)(B) instills assurance to private landowners if “unforeseen circumstances” occur. The USFS “will not require the commitment of additional land, water or financial compensation or additional restrictions on the use of land, water, or other natural resources beyond the level otherwise agreed to in the HCP without the consent of the permit holder.” The permit holder must demonstrate proper compliance with the HCP’s terms and conditions to gain the privileges of the “No Surprises” clause.